More facts on the infractions and high-level disregard to accountability and extant rules allegedly committed by the top management of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) before their suspension have emerged.
Apart from the evident disregard to the supervising authority based on the belief by few of them that they were very close to the seat of power (Presidential Villa); top-level sources within the system highlighted financial infractions committed by the top management as against the laid-down procedures.
The Managing Director of NSITF, Mr Adebayo Somefun, the three executive directors and eight other top management staff were suspended indefinitely last Thursday by President Muhammadu Buhari, through the supervising Minister, Sen. Chris Ngige.
The suspended executive directors are Mr Jasper Ikedi Azuatalam, Executive Director, Finance and Investment, Mrs Olukemi Nelson, Executive Director, Operations, and Alhaji Tijani Darazo Sulaiman, Executive Director, Administration.
According to investigations, the various infractions involving huge sum of money had been going on in NSITF for over five years, without approval by either the board or the supervising minister; while within five months between April and August 2019, the suspended management allegedly squandered about N4.3billion purported for training programmes.
A high-level source within the system, however, said 70 per cent of the training did not take place. A statement earlier issued by the supervising Ministry of Labour and Employment also supported these facts that many of the training were non-existence.
As confirmed in the statement by the Deputy Director of Press in the ministry, Mr Charles Akpan, “the Managing Director and some members of his Executive (now suspended) lavished N3.4 billion on non-existent staff training split into about 196 different consultancy contracts in other to evade the Ministerial tenders Board and Federal Executive Council (FEC) approvals.”
According to the source, the suspended management have incurred not less than N12 billion liabilities, and have refused to answer audit query from the Auditor General Office.”
“They awarded themselves salaries and allowances of over N10million. They collect generating sets allowances, dress, clubs, DSTV and other allowances. The staff that raised eyebrow were either transferred or queried to cow them,” the source said.
All attempts to audit all procurement were said to have been frustrated and even when they were directed by the supervising authorities not to pay for procurements, until after the auditing, they refused and in disregard to the superior authorities, went ahead and started payment without approval.
Investigations revealed that they paid N450 million in November 2019; and the source added: “in March 2020, the Director of Finance came back from the lockdown and claimed that he had gotten approval from the presidency to overrule the Minister, they paid N600 million to contractors.”
It was also gathered that the now-suspended management team cited 14 regional offices without approval from the board or the supervisory ministry in such a policy expenditure.
Besides, they allegedly awarded contracts of about N1. 8 billion to cronies for regional offices just to refurbish some of the existing offices.
They were also alleged to have done budget virement and replaced official working materials and tools to buy personal jeeps including Prado, Peugeot 508 series and Hilux escort cars. The suspended Managing Director is alleged to have no fewer than five of such expensive cars to himself.
They were also accused of “travelling overseas for leave in 2018 without approval and awarded themselves N10million each, which is far and above what the law permits; while they allegedly flew in first-class tickets with their relatives including their wives with huge estacodes.
The Chairman of the Board of NSITF, Mr Austin Enejamo-Isire, was said to be sidelined while these infractions were going on, but the chairman was said to only gave approval for payment of salaries and essential services.
Because of the assumed closeness of one of the executive directors to the Presidential Villa, the source said the Board Chairman was advised and “warned to stay clear” because he is only a nominal and not an executive chairman.
The source said, “they warned the Board Chairman and threatened to sack other uncompromising staff. I am aware that they cancelled three board meetings in less than 24 hours and shutout audit committee. The MD wrote to the minister to inform him that the management has overruled him to pay contractors to avoid litigation. All the monies paid were without SRV (vouchers).
“This was one of the reasons they requested that the woman seconded by the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) be transferred because she was asking questions and querying unapproved payment. She was even queried by the MD before she was transferred. They also transferred recalcitrant staff including internal auditor and started using a junior staff in the audit department to perpetuate all forms anomalies.
“They became so powerful that they were sending the budget of NSITF independent of the Ministry of Labour and Employment.”
When contacted on Sunday to confirm whether the management wrote him a letter to pay contractors despite his earlier directive to them not to pay, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, responded in affirmative but said he doesn’t want to talk on the issue now because a panel of the investigation will be constituted to investigate the whole issue.
Besides, he said the ministry has issued a statement earlier and would still limit his position for now on that premise.
Also, when contacted at exactly 5.39 pm on Sunday, the Chairman of the NSITF Board said our correspondent should call back in another one hour as he is in the middle of the very crucial meeting. The chairman will likely address a press conference on Monday.
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